“When I was younger, I had dreams of making myself become anorexic.”
I heard a coworker yesterday say that to a series of understanding murmurs of “me too.” The other people participating in the conversation were all women. Her comment and the subsequent agreement from other female coworkers both resonated with me and disturbed me.
I know that I had a similar desire to make my body become more waif-like, more delicate while growing up, but not to the same extreme of many people I knew and read about.
In addition, I also wanted to be able to faint easily and to put myself in a position to be “rescued,” because that is what the beautiful women in movies and books seemed to do, and of course they were well-liked. I thought that if I was able to “achieve” those things, then everyone would like me, I would find my true love, have a big wedding in front of all of my adoring life fans, and basically live a heteronormative movie-esque fairy tale. I remember working out for hours a day in early high school in part to attempt this feat.
I just wonder how many other girls and boys were/are thinking,” when I grow up, I want to be someone I’m not so that people will like me more or I’ll be more through altering the way I look.” How many adults still feel that way? Considering the market for advertising revenue in body image and fitness, I’d guess quite a high percentage.
Body image analysis is not something I bring up frequently on Looking for Pemberley, because there are so many discussions about it already. Most are tired of the conversation. However, that girl’s comment made me think that perhaps it was time again.
With the rhetoric of the 19th century discussed in my last post, men and women were opposite from each other in temperament, physiological, and utilitarian societal functions. They were seen to support each other and learn from the other in their opposite-ness, but traits were thought to not overlap.
Of course, that binary view was extreme, and there are always gender blurrings and overlaps. The result of this has been, from what I can see, a sense of shame for the parts of oneself that are not ideal or standard for their gender in the dominant ideology.
Even though people really have a mixture of both masculine and feminine traits within themselves, women often dislike or feel discomfort with the parts of themselves that are more “masculine,” while men often feel insecure about their “feminine” wiles, since they feel a perceived failure to match their physiological and social gender role.
It is also disappointing that even with all of our innovation as a culture, the dominant ideology has perhaps become even more ingrained. Instead of being digested through posters, books, and magazines, we have also added the internet, television, radio, and many other forms of media to reinforce the marketing of gender norms.
Marketing geared towards both women and men is a bizarre double edged sword. It assumes, “you want this, because you are XX or XY chromosome,” while at the same time suggesting that if you hadn’t thought that you wanted what is being sold to you yet, you may be a total social failure. I mean, after all, the people in ads are happier than you are or will probably ever be, more beautiful (possibly as a result of airbrushing), more in shape, more healthy, have better teeth, and so on.
Remember when I talked about my love of the show Target Women? She does a fantastic job of exploring gendered marketing in a funny and approachable way. If not, here is another favorite example of one of Sarah Haskin’s clips: Target Women Jewelry.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be better, to push yourself to achieve your goals, or to take a second look at what your needs are. However, it is hard to escape feelings of inadequacies when faced with a constant bombardment of marketing. Disliking yourself is not a great motivator.
All marketing, but especially body-centered marketing plays on the insecurities of a gendered culture so well that we hardly even know what is being sold sometimes. Everyone wants to fit in, and many people want to be partnered. I’ll admit that I still want those things, just in a different way (thank goodness) than I did when I was younger.
It is important to take a close look at what we are consuming in terms of advertising. What is being sold to us? Is it sexiness, or is it happiness? Are they marketed as the same thing?
And as a culture, we buy it, whether we want to or not. Well, at least on some level. I think that adolescents are the most susceptible to body image woes, just because at that time, having a partner or being attractive to someone often seems like the pinnacle of life.
This is my message to people who want to be anorexic after watching an advertisement with skinny people who look happy and smiling: the ads are clever, but you are too. Do what makes you feel right in your own skin- not what the magazines and advertisements are telling you to need. If you feel like you should get more in shape, then try exercising. But don’t hate yourself for not being the person on an ad on TV.
How does one find what they need, and tune out what everyone else is telling them to need? Here are 10 ideas that I thought of in the past year:
- Listen to your instincts;
- Love yourself and treat yourself well;
- Don’t compare yourself with models and movie-stars;
- Compare yourself with yourself, and set reasonable goals that you know are within your reach;
- Surround yourself with people who love you too;
- Argue back with the voices in your head from people who have criticized you or made you feel “less than;”
- Remember that you know more about yourself than others do. While it can be helpful to get other perspectives, at the end of the day, you live with your choices, and with your body. You are the only one who has to like yourself, and the sooner you know how to make yourself happy, the higher your level of contentedness, and the easier you are able to know what you really want out of life;
- If you want to wear a bikini, then you should wear one;
- If you don’t want to wear a bikini, don’t feel like you need to want one to be feminine, and certainly don’t feel you need to make yourself become anorexic to get into one.
You might also consider listening to the Incubus song When It Comes for inspiration on resisting what is being sold to you, and living your own life as freely as possible from false expectations.
Lyrics: It’s coming around again, they’re letting it out again. When it comes, it comes abrupt.
And it feels, it feels like trading brains with an imbecile… for real.
Yes I feel emphatic about not being static and not buying philosophies that are sold to me, at a steal.
Just when you thought it was safe to think, in comes mental piracy, NO! What I’m looking for, cannot be sold to me.
I wish they all would stop trying
cause’ what I want and what I need, is and will always be free.
It’s coming around again they’re letting it out again, again. It’s coming around again they’re letting it out again.
When it comes, it comes unannounced,
and it feels like a matador is taunting me with his reddest red cloth and I am the bull.
Yes I feel emphatic about not being static and not eating the bullshit that’s being fed to me no more… cause’ now I’m full. Just when you thought it was safe to think in comes mental piracy!
What I’m looking for cannot be sold to me. I wish they all would stop trying,
cause’ what I want and what I need is and will always be free.